Before you light that cigarette, think again.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial signed into law yesterday a measure that bans smoking in virtually all areas in the CNMI, except in private residences, most private bars, casinos, and departure terminal of airports.
With the governor's enactment of the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2008, smoking is now prohibited in government facilities, schools, places of employment and public places-a development that was hailed by health advocates, non-smokers, and even smokers who want to quit.
House Bill 16-47, HD2, SD1, CCS1 is now Public Law 16-46.
The sweeping smoking ban law means if any member of the Legislature, for example, wants to smoke cigarettes outside, he or she needs to be at least 26 feet away from the legislative building's doorway entrance or exit on Capital Hill.
At least 13 of 29 lawmakers smoke cigarettes or cigars.
Violators face a fine of up to $200 and completion of a mandatory tobacco prevention and/or cessation course, while owners of places where the violation occurs face a fine of up to $500 and revocation of a business license.
Fitial, a non-smoker, has long hailed private and public entities that have volunteered to ban smoking in their premises even before the enactment of any law prohibiting smoking, including Shirley's Coffee Shop, Tony Roma's and Capricciosa.
Under the new law, smoking is prohibited in all enclosed government facilities, including office buildings, warehouses and vehicles.
Smoking is also not allowed within 25 feet of any doorway entrance or exit to a government facility or building.
George J. Cruz, chairman of the CNMI Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition and the Commonwealth Diabetes Coalition, said yesterday the new law has been a long awaited and much needed measure to reduce the overall health care costs, provide a healthier environment for the community and visitors, and decrease many of the chronic diseases related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke.
The measure adopts the findings of the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, which states that secondhand smoke is a known cancer-causing agent that is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults.
Exposure to secondhand smoke is associated with an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia in young children.
“The health of our community has finally been recognized; that this is not only more costly, but more of a priority and outweighs tobacco products and sales,” Cruz told Saipan Tribune.
Cruz, who drummed up support for the no-smoking bill, said the effects of the new law “will be felt and seen not this year, or even next but within five to 10 years down the line.”
“Our grandchildren and great grandchildren will feel the healthy affects of this measure as our lawmakers have taken a bold step to make the CNMI healthier and smoke free. We want to thank [Rep.] Justo Quitugua, the author of the bill, [Rep.] Ralph Torres, chairman for the Health, Education and Welfare Committee, and Speaker Arnold Palacios and Vice Speaker Joseph Guerrero for their untiring support to push the bill through the process and to continuously open their doors and ears to the concerns and advocacy of the Coalition and our many partners,” he added.
Sweeping smoking ban
The new law also bans smoking in public places, including libraries, museums, banks, Laundromats, hotels, motels, public and private educational facilities, elevators, movie houses, health care facilities, and licensed child care and adult care facilities.
Others include polling places, buses and taxicabs, restaurants, including other attached bars, restrooms, lobbies, reception areas, hallways and other common-use areas, supermarkets, retail food outlets, department stores, retail stores, service lines, shopping malls, and sports arenas.
Also falling under public places where smoking is banned are lobbies, hallways and other common areas in apartment buildings, condominiums, retirement facilities, nursing homes, and other multiple-unit residential facilities.
“On behalf of the CNMI Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, our partners the Community Guidance Center Prevention Office and the Commonwealth Diabetes Coalition, along with our many advocates, supporters, and community coalitions, we are very ecstatic about the passing of the CNMI Smoke-Free Air Act by the House and the Senate this September, and are even more enthusiastic that the governor has signed the Smoke-Free Air Act into law,” said Cruz.
Rep. Justo Quitugua (D-Saipan), author of the no-smoking bill, said the more important task now is enforcement of the law by the Department of Public Health or an authorized designee.
He, however, said individual members of the community have the responsibility to report any violation to DPH or the Department of Public Safety.
“I'm very happy and grateful for the governor's support of the bill. Hopefully with the new law, we will see a decrease in diseases related to smoking, and a decrease in medical costs associated with smoking,” said Quitugua, a non-smoker.
He also hopes that “people will now take more seriously the effects of smoking and second-hand smoke.”
“This law will provide a healthier environment for all of us, especially our children,” he added.
Cruz, for his part, said “the real work begins” by implementing education and awareness campaigns over the next year or so “to ensure that businesses and government agencies take responsibility to enforce this healthy measure in the workplace.”
“The coalitions will also work closely with the community to produce needed signage, education, training and other technical assistance to make the transition smoother not just for the organization themselves, but especially for their staff and other personnel who are non-smokers and smokers alike,” he said.
'Comply with the law'
House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan) said he expects all members of the House and staffers to comply with the new law.
“We support it, we passed it and we will comply with it,” said Palacios, a smoker who wants to quit.
Rep. Joe Reyes (R-Saipan), also a smoker, said the new law is also good for those who want to quit.
“The law is good not only for those who smoke but for those who smoke and want to quit. I'm trying to quit, too,” he said.
Cruz hopes that the community will come together to embrace the new law and take a “personal step to a healthier lifestyle.”
The governor signed the measure into law some three weeks after the House passed it on Sept. 9 with 14 members present voting “yes” and one abstention. The Senate passed it on Sept. 3 on a 7-0 vote.
Anti-smoking posters and banners urging support on H.B. 16-47 were posted on the Senate and House chamber's wall during the sessions attended by health advocates.
The bill also earned regional support, including those from Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Hawaii and Guam, as well as the U.S. mainland.